Inside the Athena Film Festival

Maura De Rose

From February 28th to March 3rd, Barnard hosted the Athena Film Festival. In its ninth year, the festival highlights women filmmakers and stories of women in leadership. This year’s festivities included over 70 film screenings and a slew of panels and workshops, covering topics such as Time’s Up and storytelling about women in STEM. The festival also presents a variety of accolades to those making strides in the field, including the Athena Award granted to talent attorney Nina Shaw (BC ‘76, CU Law ‘79).

I went to a communications-focused high school that allowed me to focus on digital video. My love of filmmaking in high school lead me to take film courses at Barnard and volunteer for the festival. The volunteer experience was both welcoming and exciting. I enjoyed meeting such a passionate group of people and contributing in even the smallest way to the festival’s mission. Most of all, I enjoyed getting to know fellow volunteers and Barnard students. The festival attracted a wide variety of people, and I even met a Barnard graduate who has come back to volunteer for the past three years.

I experienced the festival for the first time last year, when, after being accepted to Barnard, I took the train from New Jersey to see Greta Gerwig’s (BC ‘06) Lady Bird. Fresh off the college application experience, the movie was timely and particularly enjoyable to watch on Barnard’s campus. I had seen the film in theaters before, but the energy of the Athena Film Festival was unique. Everyone was so excited to see the movie and so proud of the Barnard alumna. They sighed when Lady Bird was rejected from Columbia and cheered when she was accepted to another New York City college.

There was a similarly unique enthusiasm on Friday night, when I saw On the Basis of Sex. The screenplay was featured on the 2014 Athena List, which recognizes unproduced scripts with female leaders. The movie chronicles the beginnings of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s career. After starting law school at Harvard and finishing at Columbia, Ginsburg’s former Harvard dean ends up supporting the opposing side in a sex discrimination case. He tells her, “I’m pleased you found a use for your Harvard education.” She replies “Oh, no. What I’m doing, I learned at Columbia.” The audience went wild. The joy in seeing a movie at the Athena film festival is that you’re seeing a movie with a group of people who are just as thrilled to be there as you are.

The next day, I saw The Great Mother. The film followed Nora Sandigo, a woman who is the legal guardian to over two thousand American children whose parents were deported. Sandigo does not house the children, but makes sure they are cared for and works to reunite their families. Afterwards, there was a Q&A with filmmakers Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker. I appreciate the festival’s focus on female filmmakers, but it was also uplifting to hear from men interested in telling women’s stories.

Finally, I saw Mary Queen of Scots. My favorite film I saw during the festival, the movie depicted the reign of Mary Queen of Scots and her relationship with Queen Elizabeth of England. Their positions made the women both rivals and the only people who could truly understand each other. It was an interesting way to end my festival experience, as the festival urged for more women in leadership while this movie demonstrated the potential burdens of power.

I had a wonderful experience at the Athena Film Festival, both as an audience member and a volunteer. I felt inspired by the work of the men and women changing film who are motivated to have more women on the screen and behind the camera. My time at the festival made me think of my high school film teacher, someone who I will always appreciate for encouraging young women to pursue film. I bought a festival mug which I will send to him to let him know that, in some small way, I am continuing the path he helped me begin. I look forward to volunteering again next year.